Mayo manager Kevin McStay and selector Stephen Rochford. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach | Sportsfile

Attention to 'the brilliant basics' becomes crucial to Mayo's 2024 aspirations

by Caoimhín Rowland

“RIGHT up until half-time in the Dublin game last year we were right up there in contention for the All-Ireland,” said Kevin McStay at the launch of Mayo’s Allianz League campaign.

The former RTÉ pundit assumes a difficult second album at the helm of his dream job, silverware already in hand from 2023’s Allianz National League triumph but All-Ireland glory remains the only real prize to satisfy the demands of a raucous Mayo support.

With a thunderous score from just inside the 45-metre line, cascading down the net in front of Hill 16, Ryan O’Donoghue had Mayo supporters dreaming once again in Croke Park.

The Green and Red were going toe-to-toe with the county’s fiercest of rivals. Supporters held currency in the bank, having beaten the Dubs before, a confidence that comes with a league title and a fresh management team.

As ever, all of Mayo was bridled with belief. But as Kevin McStay said about Dublin in his post-match interview after witnessing a sporting bloodbath: “They haven’t gone away, you know.”

Division 2 Dublin romped home with aplomb. For Mayo it a familiar tale of woe and what ifs, of missed goal chances as well.

Only the Dubs could dispel the narrative of top flight football being a prerequisite to winning Sam. The Boys in Blue know better than most how to inflict awesome devastation and place sobering thoughts upon a contingent of dreamers.

We’re beginning to hear a common theme from the Mayo camp, a phrase uttered again and again. McStay aims to drill the 'brilliant basics' into his team for the year ahead.

Not content with throwing the baby out with the bath water, this Mayo panel has some fresh faces yet all but four who played against Dublin last season started against Galway in Salthill last Sunday week.

Another season under the belt at senior inter-county level for Callinan, Coyne and O’Brien will add to their strength and belief. In the game of inches that Gaelic football is, attention to the 'brilliant basics' becomes crucial to success.

Yet Hastings Insurance MacHale Park, the supposed home fortress in Castlebar, fails to live up to its reputation.

Instead of being a sanctuary, it has become a theatre of nerves for Mayo spectators, particularly when there in the thousands.

Any ball fumbled, kick pass skewed over the sideline or shot taken rashly and blazed far from the black spot is met with an unmistakable groan.

If the Mayo roar is famous in ferocity for rising on-field intensity and lauded for spirited comebacks that capture the attention of the neutral like no other sporting underdog, the Mayo groan in Hastings Insurance MacHale Park can be deafening too, especially as an unfortunate soundtrack for young fringe players' human errors – players who have only a short window to make a name for themselves before minds are made up.

The groans serve as a reminder that the quest for All-Ireland glory is not just about tactical nous, physical prowess or timing your run.

It’s about mastering the psychological and emotional intricacies that define the Mayo journey.

Outside observers point toward a collective lack of perspective perhaps within our county bounds, but in a blind frenzy of fandom, common sense goes out the window.

It's fascinating to note how dominant Ulster has become in terms of GAA punditry.

The GAA Social is by far the best in class for in-depth personal podcast stories. The latest with Conor Glass, the game's man of the moment, is another bow in the feather of Thomas Niblock.

Tyrone duo Peter Canavan and Sean Cavanagh are regulars on RTÉ and Oisin McConville is a breath of fresh air, cutting through bluster.

Even Mayo’s top GAA podcast heralds a clever Cavan man bitten by the Mayo fever.

Everywhere you turn there’s an Ulsterman pontificating on the game and from my view, much better than what came before.

It's a long way from decades of Pat Spillane lambasting any Ulster team for the temerity of doing what Kerry teams had been doing for years, with cynical fouls and goading opposition players.

New pundits have released a breath of fresh air into a stale GAA media circuit and long may it continue.